Supporting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feels increasingly like clinging onto a cliff edge while someone with heavy boots stamps on your fingers. The boots were Israeli on Monday. Having spun the line that European governments had misunderstood Israel‘s plan to create a settlement that would cut the West Bank in two and separate it from East Jerusalem, the prime minister’s office vowed that nothing would alter their decision. The European diplomatic protest was, by its meek standards, unprecedented. Israeli ambassadors were summoned in Britain, France, Sweden and Spain but none of the four threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel. They should have.
From their inception, the West Bank settlements have been a cumulative study in opportunism. It matters not whether the horrified US secretary of state is a Republican or a Democrat. Condoleezza Rice said in 2007 that Har Homa should not be built. Five years later it is a fact on the ground, “the last brick in the wall of Jerusalem”, and never be surrendered. The same is about to happen to an area of land called E1, which lies between another egregious act of occupation, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Jerusalem.
The Israeli NGO B’Tselem says the plan dates back to 1999. Every US administration since has condemned it, because it would sever the Palestinian state from its capital in East Jerusalem. Although European diplomats call it a red line, it should have surprised no one that it is now to be crossed. Each piece in the jigsaw of settlement planning had been laid by previous Israeli administrations. Sealing the West Bank off from Jerusalem had been their purpose from the start.
The decision was intended as a punishment for Palestinians having the temerity to seek observer status from the same body, the United Nations of which Israel is already a full member. Israel hoped to rally between 20 and 30 countries to oppose the Palestinian request. In the event only eight countries, among them four tiny Pacific island nations, complied. Instead of isolating Palestinians, the UN vote showed how much support Israel lost in the place it values most – Europe. Only Czech Republic supported them.
If this decision is the punishment for the crime of going to the UN, how does Binyamin Netanyahu hope to persuade the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, now that he has just blocked their route off physically? Unless of course he, too, believes a two-state solution is a convenient fiction. One thing is clear. He continues to act with impunity. Until the US callibrates its relationship with Israel, until its leaders feel there is a price to pay for settlements, the plan for a two-state solution will remain a pipedream.